CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Freezing weather and snow paralyzed the border city of Ciudad Juarez on Friday, knocking out electricity and water in thousands of homes and closing roads and factories.
Record low temperatures hit the city, across from El Paso, Texas, from Tuesday, which is already suffering from some of the worst violence in Mexico’s drug war, fluctuating between -0.4 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 and -10 degrees Celsius).
“There have been cold temperatures in the past, but nothing that has lasted for so many days. It’s been 40 years since the city has seen an emergency like this,” said Efren Matamoros, head of the city’s civil protection service.
Units at 17 power stations — with 6,792 megawatts of generating capacity — in northern Mexico shut down due to the unusually cold weather, forcing the national electricity monopoly to ask factories to curb usage.
The Federal Electricity Commission, known by its Spanish acronym CFE, said it had asked industrial customers in northern Mexico to voluntarily cut power consumption at peak times for the second day in a row due to the worsening outages.
Cities along Mexico’s border with the United States are home to a substantial chunk of the country’s export-oriented manufacturing sector.
The CFE implemented rolling cuts of about an hour each around dawn in the industrial hub of Monterrey, Mexico’s richest city, and in the neighboring cities of Monclova and Nuevo Laredo, affecting thousands of homes that rely on electricity for heating.
Local newspaper El Norte reported the cuts affected local factories of companies ranging from steelmaker AHMSA to brewer Grupo Modelo, but executives were not immediately available for comment. The CFE said the majority of customers still had power.
Mexico withdrew an offer on Thursday to export electricity to the state of Texas, where the power grid has been similarly affected by cold weather due to its own power generation problems.
Local governments in northern Mexico are working to ensure residents have shelter from the cold temperatures.
Schools and shops in Ciudad Juarez were shut by the cold, as well as half of the city’s maquiladora factories that assemble goods for export,.
Power outages between three and six hours left 130,000 families with no electricity and shut down 25 percent of the city’s water pumps.
People lined up to buy water jugs and gas tanks for heating and hundreds fled their freezing homes to sleep in 12 emergency shelters set up by rescue workers.
“This is worst cold I’ve felt since I moved here 12 years ago. I live in a two-room wood house, I don’t have a gas heater, just electric. But now, with the power coming and going, the only thing my two children and I can do is cover up with blankets,” 27 year-old housewife Carmen Rosales said.
Drug murders, however, showed no sign of ebbing during the cold snap with 10 people killed in Ciudad Juarez since Wednesday.
More than 7,700 people have been killed since January 2008 in Mexico’s most violent city as rival cartels battle over lucrative smuggling routes to the United States.
Additional reporting by Robert Campbell in Mexico City and Robin Emmott in Monterrey; writing by Mica Rosenberg;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid